Hail him as thy matchless King (Why the ascension of Christ is critical)

kingWhat do Kurt Darren, the Soweto Gospel Choir and Mango Groove have in common?  They all performed at the second inauguration of Jacob Zuma!  On 24 May 2014 thousands of people braved the chilly weather and made their way to the Union Buildings in Pretoria to witness Jacob Zuma’s inauguration.  “JZ” was installed, inducted and confirmed as the President of the Republic of South Africa.

The doctrine of the ascension of Christ teaches that Jesus ascended into heaven in bodily form and in heaven he was installed, inducted and confirmed as having the position of all supremacy.  Jesus was inaugurated as President of the Universe and given ultimate and all authority and power.  The ascension demonstrates that Jesus is the name above every name.

Christian people generally tend, quite rightly, to make a lot of Jesus’ birth at Christmas and Jesus’ death and resurrection at Easter.   But often Ascension Day is the ugly sister, not receiving much consideration.  Sometimes Christians, although they know the ascension is in the Bible, are not 100% sure why the ascension is even important.

Augustine of Hippo

Augustine of Hippo, a Christian theologian from the 4th Century, said that the Ascension festival “is that festival which confirms the grace of all the’ festivals together, without which the profitableness of every festival would have perished. For unless the Saviour had ascended into heaven, his Nativity would have come to nothing … and his Passion would have borne no fruit for us, and his most holy Resurrection would have been useless.

Doctrine Matters

The literal, real, historical ascension of Christ to heaven is part and parcel of true, biblical Christianity.   The Baptist and Presbyterian Confessions of faith read:

“On the third day Jesus rose from the dead with the same body in which He had suffered, with which He also ascended into Heaven, and there sits at the right hand of His Father making intercession, and shall return to judge men and angels at the end of the world.”

39 Articles of Religion

Article 4 of the 39 Articles of Religion of the Anglican church reads:

“Christ truly rose again from the dead. His was a bodily resurrection, with flesh, bones and all things that belong to the perfection of our human nature. His ascension was a bodily ascension into heaven, where he is now enthroned until the last day, when he will return to judge all men.”

The ascension and therefore exaltation of Jesus to the right hand of God is crucial, fundamental and critical to our Christian faith.  If Jesus did not ascend to heaven, his supernatural birth, saving death and glorious resurrection would be to no avail.

Westminster Larger Catechism

The Westminster Larger Catechism (a doctrinal manual for a large part of the Reformed Evangelical world) says this about Jesus being now in heaven:

“Christ makes intercession, by his appearing in our nature continually before the Father in heaven, in the merit of his obedience and sacrifice on earth, declaring his will to have it applied to all believers; answering all accusations against them, and procuring for them quiet of conscience, notwithstanding daily failings, access with boldness to the throne.”

Jesus saves us completely through his death on the cross and there is nothing we can add or contribute to our salvation.  Nothing else is necessary to supplement our salvation.  Yet because of Jesus’ ascension to heaven, he is our interceding high priest and applies the benefits and merits of his atoning death to us each hour and each day.   Christians still sin and at times are entangled in grievous sin, but we have a Mediator who applies the benefits of his substitutionary sacrifice to us continually.

Pentecost

On the day of Pentecost, about 10 days after Jesus’ ascension, the followers of Jesus were prayerfully waiting in Jerusalem as Jesus said they should.  The Holy Spirit was poured out in a spectacular way and the believers began preaching and witnessing about Jesus in foreign languages.   Other people in Jerusalem are amazed as they heard the gospel in their own native tongue (Acts 2:6).  What happened was a reversal of the Tower of Babel.

The tower of Babel

In Genesis 11 God confused the languages as judgment on people and scattered the nations.  Now, representatives of the nations hear the gospel in their own language.  God is gathering the nations together under Christ.  This is a small foretaste of heaven where one day people from all tribes, languages and cultures will be gathered before the throne of God.  Peter, the follower who not so long before had denied Christ, now stands up to boldly preach.

Evidence for the ascension

Here is an important exerpt from Peter’s sermon Peter’s sermon, “God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of the fact.  Exalted to the right hand of God, he has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear.” (Acts 2:32-33)

Peter said that the pouring out of the Holy Spirit, the tongues of fire and the speaking in other languages was evidence that Jesus is exalted at the right hand of God.   Peter says that Jesus was humbled to the point of death but now is exalted to the position of all authority.  The ascension confirms that Jesus is enthroned as Ruler of the World and the pouring out of Holy Spirit is historical evidence of that enthronement in heaven.   Note Peter’s conclusion in v36, “Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.”  Again, the ascension shows, confirms and demonstrates that Jesus is Lord and King.

Two ways to live

You cannot think of Jesus as a baby in a manager or a harmless, sweet teacher who taught people to love each other.  If Jesus is exalted to the right hand of God, Jesus can no longer serve you – you have to serve him.  The implication of the cross is that sin deserves death.   The implication of the resurrection is that God offers new life.  The implication of the ascension is that Jesus rules over the world and all people.  Either we submit to Jesus’ rule by repenting of sin and trusting in Christ and receive the forgiveness of sins.  Or we continue to rebel against Jesus’ rule and face God’s judgement.

Matchless king

At Jesus’ magnificent return one day, every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.  Some people will voluntarily bow in adoration and worship.  Many will reluctantly bow in fear and dread.  Will you bow now before it’s too late?  The first verse of the grand old hymn Crown him with many crowns has these apt words:

Crown him with many crowns,

the Lamb upon his throne,

Hark! how the heavenly anthem drowns

all music but its own.

Awake, my soul, and sing

of him who died for thee,

and hail him as thy matchless King

through all eternity.